A ‘gawria’ is a word locals use that means ‘foreign girl’ usually referring to Europeans.
Situated in one of the most northerly points in Morocco, just next to the Atlas Mountains, lies Fez. It is known as the cultural capital of Morocco, brimming with history and unique architecture.
The old town in Fez holds the world’s oldest university plus a labyrinth of winding streets, lined with market stalls. This makes Fez the more favourable option to Marrakesh, which is overrun with tourism.
Unlike Marrakesh, the locals in Fez still make up the population. The old town is called ‘The Medina’ which translates to an old walled north African town. It was built in the eighth century and has not changed in over a thousand years. Stepping into the old Medina and allowing yourself to get lost is a magical experience. Fez is a city unfazed by the power of time.
The Souq which is a street market, takes up most of the old Medina. Here people sell handmade traditional rugs, shoes and clothes that come in all sorts of textures and bright colours.
There are many fruit and vegetable carts, and extravagant spices, that they will freshly blend and grind up in front of you. Around every bend of the interweaving web of streets there is a new smell wafting towards you.
The only population that comes close to the number of locals is the animals of the Medina. The souk is over run with families of stray cats, eagerly waiting outside butchers or snoozing in the nukes and crannies around stalls.
There is often hens and chickens bustling around, and the only transport allowed is bikes and donkeys. The donkeys pull along carts of cakes and bread and they always get priority of the road.
Right in the heart of the old Medina is the University of Al-Karaouine, which remains the oldest university in the world first being built in 859. The buildings feature a library which contains ancient manuscripts of the Quran, and a mosque which can fit 22,000 worshipers, making it the largest in Africa.
The building is beautiful and breathtakingly massive, considering it is tucked away in the middle of the Souq. There is a giant marble courtyard, with a fountain in the middle. Tourists are not allowed in as it still functions as a mosque. Even today the university is still open and has many students enrolled.
Venture deeper into the Medina and you will find the Tannery, another ancient and sacred tradition. Morocco is known for its leather and this is where the process begins. The tannery is a courtyard of stone pools filled with different colours of dye. Barefoot workers, dye the leather all red, yellow, orange and green. Chances are you will smell the Tannery before you find it, as the pungent smell drifts into the surrounding area. You can look from the terrace above, which is just far enough away to save your nose!
On the quieter new side of town is the 20th century built, Ville Nouvelle. A contemporary, French style neighborhood, this is where most hotels and apartments are, as well as more modern shops and cafes.
In all neighborhood’s there is a local shop known as the ‘Hanout’ where residents will normally build a good relationship with the local shopkeeper known as the ‘Mul Ihanout’. The Hanout has all foods imaginable stacked ceiling to floor.
The people of Morocco are extremely welcoming and hospitable. We stayed in Fez during Ramadan, a holy time of year leading up to the Islam festival Eid. During Ramadan most Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The Mul Ihanout invited us for dinner during Ramadan for a ‘Ftoor,’ the evening meal to break the fast.
He didn’t even need to close the shop; we were led to the back where giant plastic containers of rice and pasta were covered with cardboard to create make shift tables. We all sat around on crates of juice with pillows on top.
Then, he brought out the Tagine, probably the most well-known and traditional Moroccan dish. Made up of succulent chicken under a bed of fragrant potatoes carrots and peas stewed in the best herbs and spices. The Tagine was followed by sweet dates from Saudi Arabia and fresh mint tea to cleanse your pallet.
Flights to Morocco are reasonably cheap, especially for travelling to another continent. From the UK, it only takes roughly two to three hours. Although there are some negative connotations about Morocco being unsafe for tourists, in my experience, it really isn’t true at all. There is the same amount of danger you would be exposed to anywhere. If you do your research and respect the customs of the country you shouldn’t have any problems.